CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The burning issues this week in Conference USA:Can the league score any wins over an FBS team stronger than Kansas?Can the league win two games against FBS teams this week?How bad is Florida International?
Let's put it this way: The Panthers were dunked a week ago, yielding 311 rushing yards in a 34-13 setback. They fell behind 14-7 at the half and then were manhandled after the intermission.To add insult, Jake Medlock ended a drive by throwing an interception at the 8-yard line and watched it get returned 92 yards for a touchdown. That made it 34-7 early in the fourth quarter.Who was FIU struggling against: Florida State? No.
Crosstown foe Miami? No.Central or South Florida? No.It was the FCS school located in Daytona Beach. It was Bethune-Cookman.Surely, you jest, right?Nope. The Wildcats are favored to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but that league doesn't exactly scare the bejeebers out of major-college foes. B-C won its first such game and probably doesn't care how many dozens it will lose by today at Florida State.As for FIU, its rocks have just about hit bottom. Georgia State is nowhere to be found on its schedule - it's No. 7 Louisville today, then an off week, then its first tour of Conference USA.It's the worst-case scenario for coach Ron Turner, who took over after the roundly panned firing of Mario Cristobal, the coach who had raised the Panthers out of an 0-12 morass in 2006 to bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011.This brutal start, with includes a 43-10 beatdown at Maryland (40-10 at halftime) and a 38-0 skunking against UCF, comes amid a radical youth movement.In the first game, 13 first-time starters took the field. Against UCF, add four more. And Turner isn't scared to add to that, especially if he sees elder statesmen with a bad attitude. "If someone's not with us, get him out. Get him out," Turner told the Miami Herald. "Now, there's only a handful. There were more. Some of them aren't here. Obviously, we've still got a couple. So get the guys in this room that believe in what we're doing are going to do it our way."nn
To be fair, the league won three over nonconference FBS teams the first weekend, including Marshall's win over Miami (Ohio). The number fell to one in Week 2 and rebounded to five next week.
Still, C-USA teams are 1-12 against the "Power Five" conferences, have lost twice to FCS teams and are 0-2 against the Ohio Bobcats. The Rice Owls, suddenly a good pick to win the West Division, scored a 23-14 home win last week over Kansas. It's the second straight season the Owls have sent the Big 12 bottom-scrapers away empty.Charles Ross rushed for 157 yards and the game-icing touchdown, but the story was Chris Boswell. His third field, a 56-yard bomb, put the Owls ahead 16-14. In a league of Lou Groza Award contenders, Boswell is as good a candidate as any - he is 12 of 17 on field goals from 50 yards and longer.Today, the Owls take on crosstown rival Houston at Reliant Stadium. Houston has moved on to the American Athletic Conference.Around the USAThe other Owls, Florida Atlantic, saw D'Joun Smith named the Jim Thorpe Award national defensive back of the week. Smith returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown in FAU's 28-10 win over USF, and is tied for the FBS lead with seven pass breakups.
FAU welcomes former Sun Belt rival Middle Tennessee to the C-USA wars at noon today. In the other league game, Texas-San Antonio visits Texas-El Paso.In other games besides Marshall's trip to Virginia Tech, North Texas visits No. 9 Georgia Tech, Louisiana Tech goes to Kansas, Tulane is at Syracuse and Alabama-Birmingham visits Northwestern State.Marshall leads the league in scoring offense (46.0), scoring defense (16.0), rushing defense (67.0), passing yardage (312.7), total offense (527.3), total defense (252.7) and first downs (88).
Statisical anomaly: The Herd's Blake Frohnapfel has done well enough in his short time on the field to lead the league in pass efficiency rating (the league apparently doesn't worry about a minimum of attempts). His 167.8 comes from going 8 of 10 for 89 yards with a touchdown and an interception.Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5140, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.